Relaunched by the opening of long classified archives, the interest of the general public & nbsp; for the assassination of John F. Kennedy was never contradicted without doubt maintained by some serious gray areas and by a fiddling with more or less eccentric theories. A fascination that would almost make one forget that 4 of the 45 American presidents fell under the bullets of a murderer: JFK in 1963, the relatively forgotten McKinley in 1901, Garfield in 1881 and the first of them & nbsp ;: Abraham Lincoln. The story of a national trauma as significant as that of November 1963.
Washington, evening Friday, April 14, 1865. As the South collapses and the Civil War draws to a close, the 16th President of the United States Abraham Lincoln and his wife Mary arrive at the Ford Theater in Washington to attend a Tom Taylor comedy, Our American Cousin. Already started, the play is interrupted for a few moments, the time for the public to applaud their arrival. The presidential couple joined their guests in their dressing room, Major Henry Rathbone and his fiancee, Miss Harris.
Around 9 p.m. a young man arrives in front of the performance hall and entrusts his horse to one of the machinists. Attractive, already gifted with a pretty reputation, John Wilkes Booth is well known to the employees of a theater where he is at home, thanks to a long friendship with the owner of the premises. No one is surprised to see him go upstairs - and no one sees him slip quietly into the anteroom of the presidential box before blocking the door. No one either sees him preparing his weapon, a Derringer with a single shot, but of large caliber.
As a good actor, Booth knows the lines of the play on his fingertips. He patiently awaits a precise dialogue from Act III, the final flight of which never fails to make spectators laugh: he relies on the hubbub to cover the detonation and gain a few precious seconds in his escape.
Right in front of him, in the dark, Mrs. Lincoln leans over to her husband and takes her hand. "& Nbsp; What will Miss Harris think, that I will hold your hand in this way? & Nbsp;" She whispers. "& Nbsp; She won't think anything of it at all & nbsp;", replied the president. These are his last words. At the exact moment the aftershock sounds ("& nbsp; Kind of an old manipulative man-eater & nbsp;! & Nbsp;") Booth steps forward and almost shoots him in the President's head. Reached behind the left ear, Lincoln collapsed. Major Rathbone, a good soldier, is the first to understand what is at stake and rushes to try to hold back the assassin, but Booth defends himself with two stabs, jumps on the edge of the balcony of the lodge and… s crushes three meters below on the stage: his spur got caught in a wall hanging…
With his ankle broken, he nevertheless manages to get up and exclaims in front of a dumbfounded audience "& nbsp; Sic semper tyrannis & nbsp;! & Nbsp;" ("& Nbsp; So it is with tyrants & nbsp;! & Nbsp;"). In the general panic, Booth manages to make his way to the exit of the theater by hobbling and getting into the saddle before riding off with a downed bridle to join his accomplices - because Booth is far from having acted alone.
Composed of southerners and convinced slavers, his group of conspirators had long been planning an attack on Abraham Lincoln. After having first thought of removing it to destabilize the North, he and his accomplices had finally decided to kill it the day after a speech in which Lincoln supported the idea of granting the right to vote to blacks. Better: The president’s murder was just one of three planned for that evening. Two more were planned, targeting a secretary of state and the vice president. Only Booth's gesture succeeds.
In the theater, it’s panic. In general confusion, a young surgeon, Charles Leale, joined the presidential box and examined Lincoln, collapsed in his chair. Paralyzed, he barely breathes. A military doctor, Leale quickly realizes that the wound is fatal but nevertheless draws a blood clot from the wound. Lincoln seems to be breathing a little better.
He was transported with infinite care to the first floor of the Petersen pension, a house opposite the theater. Barely stretched out, Lincoln sank into a coma. His death is just a matter of hours: quickly, the chain of command is reorganized. Officers and members of the government meet. The manhunt is already under way when the president died at 56 hours on April 15 at 7:22 a.m.
Booth, meanwhile, discovers the difference between his dreams and reality. Nourished by classical culture, convinced that he was a new Brutus slaughtering a tyrannical Caesar, the young man expected to be applauded by the whole people for a political assassination that he considered legitimate and necessary. Missed: the people see him as a common assassin, launched in a desperate race to stop the course of a civil war already lost by the Confederate camp. Curious detail: the previous year, Booth had played on stage in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar: he did not play Brutus, but Marc-Antoine, loyal companion of Caesar ...
After a fortnight on the run, Booth & nbsp; takes refuge in a Virginia hay barn where the army ends up trapping him. When Booth refuses to surrender, the soldiers set fire to the building, eventually forcing him out. When no order to fire is given, a sergeant opens fire: the bullet crosses Booth's spine at neck level. Paralyzed, the first murderer of an American president dies two days later, murmuring "useless, useless" ("& Nbsp; Useless, useless & nbsp;").
The diagnosis is correct: hundreds of thousands of Americans, many in tears, will attend the funeral procession organized in Washington. Millions more throng the railroad tracks on the train that brings his remains from Washington to his hometown in Illinois, 2,700 kilometers. After five years in office, which could not be more trying, Lincoln almost instantly gained the status of martyr, in any case a founding figure in American history.
The trial of the eight conspirators still alive lasted seven weeks and saw 366 witnesses. All were convicted and four of them were sentenced to death by hanging, including Mary Surratt, the first woman executed in the United States.
Like Kennedy, Lincoln was assassinated on a Friday by a bullet entered from the back of his head, alongside his wife. Like Booth, Oswald was shot before being tried. Coincidences that struck the minds - and of course fueled some conspiracy theories ...
I always preferred short stories to big ones, with a capital H. Over time, I learned not to feel guilty about it: the most serious of medievalists will always dream of tournaments, the most academic of historians never really recover from the death of Caesar. And fortunately. Find out more